September 23, 2014

Which witch is which? Emma Watson and the case for advocacy.

Recently Emma Watson gave a heralded speech to the UN on gender equality and the #HeForShe movement, spearheaded by the UN. #HeForShe is a worthy endeavor attempting to enlist 1 billion men and boys as supporters for gender equality… I am man number 41,039 for what that’s worth…

I have seen several portions of her talk both quoted and gushed about, so I figured I’d do my part in heaping praise toward her effort. Before I begin though, I do have a bit of a bone to pick with the UN and the name of the campaign… so… if you will indulge a short detour (if not just skip the next paragraph)…

One of the oft cited portions of her speech included dipping into the issue of equality from a male perspective. Specifically, talking about how women were not the only victims of gender inequality. Along with many others I found this to be a powerful addition to her words (not unlike President – then candidate – Obama’s speech on race from 2008). The issue is, I find “HeForShe” to be a bit at odds with the overall message (as paraphrased by me: “this effects us all and we are all part of the solution”) I got out of that segment of her speech. I think I would have preferred some sort of “all for one and one for all” type of name (not sure what it would be… but that’s not the point of this post, so I’m not really spending cycles on it right now).

Back to the point…

There was a lot to like in her presentation, but what really resonated with me was this:

“You might be thinking who is this Harry Potter girl? And what is she doing up on stage at the UN. It’s a good question and trust me I have been asking myself the same thing. I don’t know if I am qualified to be here. All I know is that I care about this problem. And I want to make it better.”

And therein lies the rub. Anyone – and everyone – who cares can make a difference (in truth, by the simple act of caring, they already have). This is powerful, powerful stuff. If we all simply ignored the traditional/perceived blockers to the things we want to accomplish or the change we want to see in the world and, instead, acted upon our passions/interests; neither our lives nor our world would have any choice but to change.

In talking with a friend about this he threw out the quote about a journey of a thousand miles beginning with a single step. I agreed, but countered with what I feel is a more empowering, albeit slightly more prescriptive quote from Arthur Ashe:

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

Every bit of effort – no matter how small – makes a difference; momentum absolutely matters. You don’t have to be Hermoine Granger to care about equality; and you don’t have to be asked to speak at the UN to make a difference. Every person you interact with is influenced by that experience. Every person who cares about you also cares (to whatever degree) about the things near and dear to you. No matter who you are you have that, and you can use it.

If you’ve ever played the 6 degrees of separation game (or, in terms the younger generations will find easier to relate to… signed up for LinkedIn) you know that no matter who you are, you are not many leaps away from a very large number of people. Shaquille O’Neil, Stanford University’s Provost, and the aforementioned President Obama are all 3rd degree contacts of mine on LinkedIn – meaning someone I know knows someone who knows them. There are literally tens of thousands of people one contact away from me. All I need to do is say the right thing, in the right way (so that it resonates with the right person) and it could explode throughout my personal network, and probably, by extension, yours as well.

So, I’d like to encourage everyone (especially the men reading this) to support the #HeForShe movement… it is important. However, on a bigger canvas, I’d like each of you to take a close look at what is important to you. What change would you like to see (or what do you want to ensure does not get changed)? Whatever that is, start talking about it, because you care and because you want to make it better.

To quote Emma Watson, quoting so many before her… if not you, then who? If not now, then when?


If you didn’t get a chance to see her presentation, here it is.

September 16, 2014

Can we please stop talking about Adrian Peterson’s child???

Not too long ago on a visit home I ate at one of my old favorite restaurants (name and location withheld for what should soon be obvious reasons). When my waiter (who I had not seen in quite a long time) came up to serve me he looked demonstratively different than he had in the past, in a very bad way. I was not comfortable asking him what happened, but I found out anyway as someone a couple of tables away did not share my compunction. He had been jumped by a couple of guys and they had beaten him senseless. It appears his hair was a little long, his clothes a little ratty, and the guys didn’t like “his kind” hanging around in their neighborhood (which also happened to be his neighborhood). A measurable portion of his face has no feeling (and it never will). He will never closely resemble the young man I had come to know. He will never speak clearly again (a portion of the “dead” part of his face is half of his lower lip).

I bring this up, in relation to the Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Ray McDonald (et. al) stories of this week because I feel we are really missing a beat in the conversation. This is not an excuse piece for those guys (there is no excuse for their actions, here or anywhere else). It is not meant to condone, encourage or enable any kind of abuse. However, it is meant to say, maybe there is another lens we should be looking at these situations through.

What I keep hearing about is how a four year old feels looking up at Mr Peterson, or how a defenseless woman feels getting punched while trapped in a elevator, as if these circumstances need to be present for an act of violence to be wrong. While I am as disturbed as the next person at the mental image of a 4 year old getting whipped, I have to suspect that my waiter friend – if he were inclined to think this way – might be wondering “What about me? Is what happened to me really less abhorrent than what happened to Mrs Rice?” I, personally, would answer “no, it is not.” Someone else might say it is, but what is relevant to the point i’m trying to make is that this discussion does not take place, there is no narrative for him. Because we are so focused on the victim, we lose track of the fact that violence is not wrong because of who it manifests itself upon, but rather, because of it’s very existence. Violence is the problem, not “violence inflicted on a certain type of person.”

The target of a wanton act of violence should be irrelevant. As a society we have started to digest the idea that victim blaming (the act of saying, for example, “that girl was raped because of how she was dressed… she asked for it”) is bad; which is good, solid progress. However, it’s time to take the next step and stop using the victims to filter (or sensationalize) the dialog. You shouldn’t need to know the person beaten with a tree branch was 4 to think something is amiss; you shouldn’t need to know it was a woman that was knocked out in an elevator and unceremoniously dumped in a hotel lobby (still unconscious) to see a problem with that evenings activities. Victims of violence need to be supported, but they do not need to be demographic drama fodder in order to emotionally validate the moral integrity of Ray Rice’s left hook.

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